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Sermon: When You Pray – The Lord’s Prayer

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Here’s the first message in a seven-part series on The Lord’s Prayer.  We’re using The Lord’s Prayer to form us spiritually during Lent this year.  Join us in these days of preparation by praying The Lord’s Prayer each day.

When You Pray:  The Lord’s Prayer

The Scriptural Passage

Matthew 6:5-15

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

10 your kingdom come,

your will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today our daily bread.

12 Forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.’

14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

The Greatest Prayer

The Significance of The Lord’s Prayer

We are quickly entering that season of the Christian Year called Lent, in which we prepare ourselves for the story of Christ’s death and resurrection.  Although Lent doesn’t begin this year until Ash Wednesday on March 9, we’re going to start our preparation a little earlier.  And this year we’re going to use The Lord’s Prayer as our guide for our own spiritual formation leading up to Easter.

As we gather for the next six Sundays, we will look at each key phrase in The Lord’s Prayer, and we’ll reflect on what that phrase meant for those who heard Jesus personally, and then on what it means for us 20 centuries later.

The Lord’s Prayer is unique in all the prayers of the Bible, and unique in all of the instructions of Jesus to his disciples.  John Dominic Crossan, in his book The Greatest Prayer, describes The Lord’s Prayer this way:

“The Lord’s Prayer is Christianity’s greatest prayer.  It is also Christianity’s strangest prayer.  It is prayed by all Christians, but it never mentions Christ.  It is prayed in all churches, but it never mentions church.  It is prayed on all Sundays, but it never mentions Sunday.  It is called the “Lord’s Prayer,” but it never mentions “Lord.”

“It is prayed by fundamentalist Christians, but it never mentions the inspired inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth, the miracles, the atoning death, or bodily resurrection of Christ.  It is prayed by evangelical Christians, but it never mentions the evangelium, or gospel. It is prayed by Pentecostal Christians, but it never mentions ecstasy or the Holy Spirit.”

“It is prayed by Congregational, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Roman Catholic Christians, but it never mentions congregation, priest, bishop or pope.  It is prayed by Christians who split from one another over this or that doctrine, but it never mentions a single one of those doctrines.  It is prayed by Christians who focus on Christ’s substitutionary sacrificial atonement for human sin, but it never mentions Christ, substitution, sacrifice, atonement, or sin.”

“It is prayed by Christians who focus on the next life in heaven or in hell, but it never mentions the next life, heaven, or hell.  It is prayed by Christians who emphasize what it never mentions and also by Christians who ignore what it does [mention].” – Prologue, page 1, The Greatest Prayer, John Dominic Crossan

Interestingly, there are very few books available about The Lord’s Prayer itself.  While commentaries on Matthew and Luke deal with The Lord’s Prayer, very few books take the prayer Jesus taught his disciples for their entire subject matter.

How could a prayer that is the only prayer Jesus taught us, receive such little attention?  That’s why for the next six weeks, we’re going to focus our attention on the greatest prayer in preparation for our celebration of the greatest Sunday, Easter.